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Peace Education

Beirut Hosts Middle East Leadership Conference

Beirut-2009-01-15-Beirut Hosts Middle East Leadership Conference

UPF-Lebanon organized its first regional International Leadership Conference in January. Due the conflict in Gaza that just happened, we needed a very strong determination to put together a Peace Conference for the Middle East. But we cannot allow conflicts to deter our efforts to promote peace in the Middle East and the world. Many people in the Middle East and in Lebanon are weary or tired of wars and conflict; that’s why any peacemaking efforts are appreciated in general in this part of the world.

The international delegates who arrived on January 14 from countries around the Middle East and also from Europe enjoyed a welcoming dinner. Especially deserving of recognition among international delegates was H.E. President Alfred Moisiu, who served Albania as president from 2002 to 2007.

He and the other international participants were greeted with the proverbial Lebanese hospitality by local Ambassadors for Peace. Welcoming remarks by Dr. Hamdi Murad (member of the UPF Presiding Council), Mr. Kaissar Bakhos (Vice President of UPF-Lebanon), and Mr. Thomas Schellen (President of UPF-Lebanon) were well received by the delegates from abroad.

On the morning of the 15th the program started with a plenary session titled “Principles of Peacemaking and Priorities for the Middle East,” moderated by Mr. Heiner Handschin (UPF-Europe, Geneva). This session created a very good base for the conference, thanks to the contributions of distinguished religious leaders such as Dr. Hamdi Murad (Islamic researcher from Amman), Sheikh M. Kanaan (Presiding Judge, Sunni Islamic Court, Lebanon), Sheikh M. Hani Fahs (Member, Higher Shiite Council of Lebanon), Sheikh Al Amin (Imam Saida, Lebanon), and a special interfaith appeal by Rev. McCormish (Geneva Interfaith Intercultural Alliance) was read by Mr. Handschin. Last but not least, the Keynote Address was presented by Mr. Thomas Schellen.

The following sessions introduced the UPF vision and thoughts on topics such as “The Vision of Peace in Divine Promise and Human Expectation,” presented by Mr. Omar Halasa (Youth Federation for World Peace), and “Conflict Resolution,” elaborated upon by Mr. Handschin.

After conference participants enjoyed their lunch at the conference venue, the excellent Gefinor Rotana Hotel, a podium discussion on “Interfaith Leadership for Peace among the Faiths of the Middle East” included speakers from Damascus (Dr. Yassin) and Germany (Dr. Gottfried Hutter, a theologian), as well as a distinguished lady from the UK, Mrs. Tina Coombs (International Vice President of the Women's Federation for World Peace-Europe)

In order to give our international participants a chance to get better acquainted with this beautiful country and meet a wide variety of interesting people, UPF-Lebanon organized special excursions in smaller groups. One group went to the Lebanese American University in Beirut, where they were welcomed by students and faculty as well as the president of the university. For both sides, the hosts and the visiting party, the special encounter was perceived as a very enriching and stimulating experience. After the meeting, Mrs. Amal Kanso, the Ambassador for Peace who organized this event, took the whole group to a restaurant, where they could enjoy Lebanese cuisine.

The second group went to the American University of Science and Technology, where a very lively dialogue with a group of 40 to 50 students and the international delegates took place, headed by Ambassador for Peace Dr. George Masse, who is also the head of the Humanity and International Relations Department at the university.

Another group had the great chance to have a very deep insight into the Lebanese history during a round-table discussion with the honorable Member of Parliament and former minister Dr. Abdallah Farhat.  This group appreciated the great opportunity to learn so much about a very unique country in the Arab world. At the end of this meeting, a dinner was served for the two groups at the top of the lovely Palm Beach Hotel, overlooking the Mediterranean Sea.

The fourth group attracted the highest number of international delegates due to the great popularity of the city Byblos which they visited. This ancient city is considered one of the oldest cities in the world and has been continuously populated for more than 4000 years. Ambassador for Peace Dr. Hiba Othman, who organized this special tour together with Dr. Jihad Naaman and his wife, also Ambassadors for Peace, made sure that the delegates learned about both the ancient Phoenician culture and the very special Christian heritage in that area. The whole group was thrilled by this little “adventure.”

The second and final day of the conference was marked by further presentations and dialogue about peace. The plenary session, “Peace Builders and the Challenges they Face,” moderated by Mr. Schellen, had mostly political leaders on the panel: H.E. Ambassador Abbas Zaki, Palestinian Authority in Lebanon; H.E. President Alfred Moisiu; Col. Ghassan Ezzedin, representing the Commander in Chief of the Lebanese army; H.E. General Jean Kahwagi; and Hon. Dr. G. Jabbour, former member of Syrian parliament and presidential advisor.

H.E. Ambassador Sam Zakhem, former U.S. Ambassador to Bahrain, was also present and he clearly enjoyed speaking in his native land. He emphasized a need for the Arab people to consider how best to present themselves to the West and the U.S. However, he added, "one should consider this point from both sides. It is very difficult to perceive things correctly from a long distance. Therefore, misunderstandings on both sides very easily occur. This is one of the reasons why the peace process in the Arab world, also encouraged by Western leaders, is progressing very slowly."

The program concluded with a podium discussion under the topic of “The Payoffs of Peace in the Middle East” after UPF presentations on Peace Initiatives by Mrs. Coombs and Mr. Halasa and a special plea by a Palestinian guest to support the war-afflicted people in Gaza with a special donation.

Overall the atmosphere was great during the whole conference, and many participants praised the conference.

A Global Peace Festival had been planned for January 15 as a finale to the conference. Due to the circumstances of heightened tensions and concerns over the human suffering in the Gaza conflict, it seemed appropriate to downsize the festival, and thus a modest celebration took place that included recognition of volunteers who had carried out numerous service projects in November 2008, under the leadership of the Secretary General of UPF-Middle East, Mr. David Fraser Harris.

A talented Lebanese singer performed with a small ensemble of musicians on traditional Arabic instruments. UPF-Lebanon recognized partners which had given their support to the activities since autumn 2008, notably the Beirut Marathon organization and the Association of Volunteer Services.

Peace Awards were given to all the volunteers. Four young people representing different confessions of Islam and Christianity talked about the core message of UPF-International, “One Family Under God.”

Organizers expressed appreciation to Ambassadors for Peace, guest speakers, and international staff as well as the delegation of Japanese goodwill ambassadors headed by Mr. Satoshi Higashimori for their amazing contribution to make the events in Lebanon a great success.

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